Mission for America Envisions Bold U.S. Trip to Mars
A dozen years ago, wealthy Los Angeles, Calif., businessman Dennis Tito leveraged his wealth as a successful investor and experience as a one time NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientist to make his way into space aboard a Russian rocket.
His eight day flight to the International Space Station well behind him, Tito has a new vision: a privately managed and financed human voyage to Mars.
Mission for America would send two yet-to-be-selected pioneers around Mars over a 501 day flight launched in early 2018. The date would take advantage of a rare favorable alignment between the Earth and Mars, allowing the two astronauts to travel light — no heavy propulsion systems to attempt a landing or to maneuver them into orbit. The trajectory would swing the Mission for America astronauts around Mars at low altitude and start them back to Earth.
The 72-year-old visionary outlined the strategy Wednesday before a National Press Club audience in Washington. Tito’s Inspiration Mars Foundation envisions the flight as an opportunity to rev up American ingenuity in ways that would help the United States outside the space arena as well.
“When nations boldly follow opportunities, rooted in curiosity and guided by technological innovation, they grow, prosper, learn and lead. And this is what makes a nation great,” said Tito.
The foundation elaborates on the mission.
“Our goal is to provide a platform for unprecedented science, engineering and education opportunities, using state-of-the-art technologies derived from NASA and the International Space Station,” according to the foundation’s mission statement. “This mission will showcase American innovation at its best, generating knowledge, experience and momentum for the next great era of space exploration. This mission is the ultimate demonstration of our collective space exploration capabilities to date.”
Crucial details remain and must come together quickly.
Tito’s foundation has signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA’s Ames Research Center for assistance with the life support systems necessary to keep the Martian emissaries healthy and the thermal protection system to ensure their spacecraft lands safely back on Earth.
The foundation has also established ties with the Paragon Space Development Corp., Allied Defense Solutions and the Space Exploration Engineering Corp. to bring the mission together. Dr. Jonathan Clark, a former NASA flight surgeon, is involved as well.
Mission for America’s ambitious plans drew an enthusiastic response from NASA, which in August achieved the successful landing of the Curiosity rover, a $2.5 billion, two year mission to seek evidence that Mars is or was once suitable for some form of life.
“This type of private sector effort is further evidence of the timeliness and wisdom of the Obama Administration’s overall space policy and the enthusiasm to tap the innovative spirit of the private sector and share the interest people have in Mars exploration,” according to the NASA statement. “It’s a testament to the audacity of America’s commercial aerospace industry and the adventurous spirit of America’s citizen-explorers.
“NASA will continue discussions with Inspiration Mars to see how the agency might collaborate on mutually-beneficial activities that could complement NASA’s human spaceflight, space technology and Mars exploration plans.”
NASA’s own long term strategy includes the human exploration of an asteroid by 2025, with a trip by astronauts to the Martian environs a decade or so later.
Mission for America also drew a favorable response from the Space Foundation, another non profit that in late 2012 released a report urging U. S. policy makers to place NASA on more of a pioneering footing.
“Missions like this one, organizations like Inspiration Mars and all parts of our space industrial base must be part of human kind’s epic journey – not just for NASA to succeed, but for all human kind to benefit,” said Elliot Pulham, the Space Foundation’s CEO. “We are thrilled about what this mission could mean to America and the world, and we’re excited to be part of this daring journey with Dennis Tito and Inspiration Mars.”